The Chollima will once again offer a stern test of the hosts’ rearguard having scored twiice in the defeat to Syria.
India play their second encounter of the Intercontinental Cup 2019 against DPR Korea on July 13th at the EKA Arena by TransStadia in Ahmedabad on Saturday. Both teams are coming off defeats in their opening encounters at the hands of Tajikistan and Syria respectively. In a parallel, both managed to score the first goal and also scored twice in the full 90. On paper, this could be as equal as it gets, but it isn’t.
DPR Korea are a team of willful runners that will give every player on the ball several options for not just 90 minutes, but beyond. They play a sweetly, smooth transitional footballing style with a lot of pressing, but are physically not as imposing as Tajikistan or Syria. This could well be a defining factor in the game, as players like Sahal Abdul Samad have been brushed off possession far too easily and regularly.
Watch: Adil Khan says he has learnt from his mistakes against Tajikistan
India saw a centre-back pairing excluding both Sandesh Jhingan and Anas Edathodika after more than three years against Tajikistan. India and DPR Korea go a long way back in history, having played their first game in 1974. The past, though, is forgettable for India, having drawn thrice, losing five times and winning none against the East Asian nation. This feat, they will hope, changes soon.
About the Teams
The Chollima, as they are affectionately called, are currently ranked 122nd in the FIFA rankings, but are a fairly better side than what that suggests, with their shortcomings. They were the Asian Games’ champions in 1978 and more recently, lifted the AFC Challenge Cup in 2010 and 2012. They also have a resounding memory from India, having lifted the Nehru Cup in 1993.
They haven’t been on their best form recently, though, having lost all of their last six games and by pretty big margins, too. In all these games, they have conceded four or more goals on every occasion, justifying their ‘porous’ tag. Facing India next, coach Yun Jong-su would be hoping to add a little more respectability to that stat.
They had a forgetful AFC Asian Cup 2019, conceding 14 goals in three encounters and scoring just once. In retrospect, India had a better time at the tournament, garnering three points against Thailand. The hosts can certainly use the spaces in the Korean defence to find some solace, after their shocking defeat against Tajikistan in the opening fixture.
Watch: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu thinks it is a transition period for the Blue Tigers under Igor Stimac
They’re a side that’s changing by the day, literally. Every matchday, manager Igor Stimac fields a team that has a new look to it and probably, trying too many things too quickly undid India against Tajikistan in the first match. They were cruising 2-0 against the Central Asian team, but the substitution of Amarjit Singh Kiyam to bring on Vinit Rai, opened the floodgates for the visitors after half-time, as they romped on to score four times.
The defence, at times, looked non-existent and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu could’ve done better on some occasions. These things, though, happen in transitional sides. The right communication on the pitch takes time. India will be expecting Sunil Chhetri to deliver the goods again and this time would expect their back four to do better. Also, they might just want Udanta Singh and whoever starts down the left, to start getting onto the scorers’ sheet.
The team shared a similar wake-up call in the last edition of the Intercontinental Cup, as a second-tier New Zealand defeated them 1-2 in the last group encounter. India, though, had already qualified for the final and beat Kenya 2-0 in the decider to lift the title. This time, though, they face better opponents. Syria, arguably the most difficult test, still awaits.
How DPR Korea could lineup against India
The team plays a flat 4-4-2, a formation Sir Alex Ferguson used a lot during his peak at Manchester United. Two sitting midfielders who do a lot of hard work, with wingers scaling up the pitch from top to bottom and two forwards who link-up among themselves to breach the opposition, are the main characteristics of this style.
Jang Kuk-choi and Ri Yong-chol can be expected to start as centre-backs, with Ri Chang-ho and Ri thong-Il providing cover as full-backs to custodian An Tae-song. Sim Hyon-jin and Ri Un-chol will be the screeners in front of the defenders as well as being the propagators of forward passes to wingers Jong Il-gwan and Ri Un-il.
Kim Yong-il and Han Thae-hyok will continue to start, given their positive 20-odd minutes against Syria in the first game. The team will take a lot of shots from distance and thus, the role of Pronay Halder/Amarjit Singh Kiyam alongside Anirudh Thapa will be key to India’s vanguard duties.
How India could lineup against DPR Korea
Amrinder Singh should start and the Mumbai City FC custodian has bided his time. If Jhingan passes the fitness test, he will be given the go-ahead in the centre-back position at the expense of the inexperienced Narender Gehlot, who had a forgettable start to his international career. At left-back, Jerry Lalrinzuala could get a look in, but Mandar Rao Dessai will still make his presence felt after a strong outing against Tajikistan.
In the midfield, Kiyam and Thapa could be given starting roles again, given the non-physical nature of the opposition. Brandon Fernandes will certainly be in the mix, either at the start or during some point later in the game, with Lallianzuala Chhangte’s underwhelming performance ringing the wrong bells. Sahal, if he’s fit, will continue in his #10 role, with Chhetri being India’s best bet up top.
The hosts will expect clinical finishing to creep into their game as passing has. Such footballing systems take time and if applied right, are a delight to watch while being effective. It will be interesting to see how Jobby Justin is used and if he gets a start, which player makes way for him.
India’s alternate lineup against DPR Korea
In an alternative, Chhetri could be moved to the wide left, a position he has played regularly since Ashley Westwood came to India, Brandon will start at #10 and Justin will make his #9 full-debut for the Blue Tigers. With too many chances every game, it gets difficult to predict the nature of the side Stimac plans in his mind.
DPR Korea: Tae Song, Chang Ho, Choi Jang, Yong Chol, Thong Il, Il Gwan, Hyon Jin, Un Chol, Un Il, Yong Il, Thae Hyok
India: Amrinder, Bheke, Jhingan, Adil, Jerry, Thapa, Amarjit, Udanta, Sahal, Brandon, Chhetri.
Players to Watch
Jong Il-gwan (DPR Korea): The 26-year-old is one of the best players the country has ever produced, having scored 21 times since 2011 for the national team. A former AFC Youth Player of the Year, Gwan started the scoring against Syria with a smooth finish that ended a breezy passing move. His coach will expect him to delivery similarly against India as well.
Amarjit Singh Kiyam (India): After two impressive outings in the national jersey, this could well be his third one. Kiyam will be happy to be on the pitch against physically-equal opponents and will be a treat to watch on the ball, once he gets into his rhythm. He can be expected to pull the strings from deep, with Thapa getting a little more freedom to explore forward.
What to Expect
A goalfest. Both teams will look to make the most of the errors from the opposition and with Chhetri and Jong Il-gwan in fine form, both India and the DPRK can hope for the right approach up top. The defences, though, will need to be on the top of their game to ensure the opposition does not outscore them. Whoever wins can be expected to join the fray for the grand finale.
The match will be broadcast on the Star Sports Network and will be played on July 13, Saturday, starting 8:00 PM. Gujarat, make your presence felt, again!